Schumer Adopts GOP Argument Against Obama Tax Plan

October 5, 2011 10:00 a.m.

President Obama has made ending the Bush tax on incomes above $250,000 a year a top goal of his presidency. Republicans have predictably fought him at every turn, and used misleading statistics to characterize the plan as one that would cripple small businesses — when in fact only sliver of the impact would fall on truly small businesses.

Wednesday, those Republicans got a big rhetorical assist from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — a member of Democratic leadership, who has been a leading advocate for setting the threshold at $1 million in income.

“There are people making 250, 300 [thousand dollars] in many of our states who are not rich; there are small businesses struggling,” Schumer told reporters at a Capitol press conference about Obama’s jobs bill. “So we prefer the million dollars.”Schumer, of course, represents New York City, where peoples’ incomes are higher than the national average. So are their costs, though. And $250,000 a year doesn’t typically go as far in Manhattan as it does in most other parts of the country. He’s also been consistent that drawing the line at $1 million creates a starker message: they’re on the side of millionaires, we’re on the side of everyone else.

But because Schumer’s argument so closely mirrors theirs, GOP staffers — who typically attack Schumer as a partisan — are blasting his statement to reporters, to portray Obama’s agenda as out of the mainstream.

Polling tells a different story. Most Democrats support allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for income above $250,000, as do most people in the country. Schumer disagrees for parochial and political reasons, but Republicans will now and forever cite his cri de coeur to suggest their opposition to Obama’s plan is broad and bipartisan.

All of this gives Schumer’s plan a big de facto boost, and he’ll take it. Indeed, the fact that Dems couldn’t consolidate support for Obama’s jobs bill until it was paid for with taxes on million-dollar earners only indicates a stronger consensus within the party for Schumer’s plan than for Obama’s.

But Obama has pledged not to renew the Bush cuts for income above $250,000, and this makes his job much harder. Schumer’s plan is compatible with the White House’s “Buffett Rule” — making sure all million-dollar-plus earners pay at least the same effective tax rate as middle class workers — so the two aren’t completely out of step. The Buffett Rule has become Obama’s rallying cry for fairness in austere times. But the President have to limit his focus to millionaires if Schumer and, of course, the GOP, have anything to say about it.

This post has been updated.

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